One thing I always try to remind myself of, is that in the end, my job is to make the business successful. Product Management is a business optimization function. In short: get the most valuable products to market with a limited set of development resources to generate enough revenue to meet or exceed the business goals.
Now, given we work in technology, there is a lot of pressure to “innovate”, to create new technological differentiation against competitors, to develop the next “big thing”, or produce a new or novel offering that can be positioned uniquely in the market.
And, while there is nothing wrong with any of that, it is important to remember that although those things may be important, they are not paramount. The most important thing to do is address market needs more effectively than anyone else. This could mean doing the more mundane things like playing well in their existing environment, or providing platform support, or creating command line tools, or making sure the products are easy to use.
None of those things may seem all that exciting or novel, but they are important to customers who must use these products to meet their business objectives. There is no point creating a unique product showcasing great technology that few people want to buy.
Keep in mind that technology changes much faster than many people’s abilities to accept that change, and one of the best things you can do for customers is to actually help them mitigate that change where possible.
Case in point. Back in the early days of Java, I was product manager for a line of Java components. Java was growing and changing quickly and Sun was deprecating APIs regularly. One of the things we did was to provide consistent APIs to our customers so that as they moved from Java (1) to Java 2, they didn’t need worry about those changes from Sun. In short, we provided them a layer of insulation from the underlying technology changes. This was hugely valuable to customers and helped our business as well as our reputation as a company that delivered real value to them.
In the end, optimizing for the business success, and NOT simply technological leadership, should be the goal of every product manager.